Sports Personality 2013: Andy Murray wins British hearts too

Wimbledon champion Andy Murray wins the 2013 BBC Sports Personality of the Year award

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
andy murray
Andy Murray won Wimbledon in the summer Back Page Images

When a British sporting achievement garners more attention than the birth of a future heir to the Royal throne and the death of one of the most prominent politicians of the century, Margaret Thatcher, you know it is something rather special.

That is what a certain Andy Murray managed to do one Sunday in the high summer of 2013 on the lawns of London’s All England Club. He threw off the shackles of expectation that had dogged him since his debut at Wimbledon eight years before to become the first man in 77 years to win that most celebrated gold trophy.

His victory as good as sealed the deal when it came to this year’s BBC Sports Personality Awards. The emotional July day that brought a nation to a standstill—and reduced much of it to tears—was last week revealed to be the UK’s most discussed Facebook event of the year. And by the eve of 60th BBC end-of-year jamboree, Murray was the hottest ever favourite for the title, odds on not just to win but to earn more than 50 percent of the vote.

I had a lot of tough losses, but the one thing I would say is I think every year I always improved a little bit

Andy Murray

Even his decision not to fly back from his Miami rehab and training block did little to cool the warmth that the British public has shown Murray this year. Sure enough, it was he who received the trophy, poolside, from the woman he called “possibly the greatest tennis player of all time”, Martina Navratilova.

In truth, though, the dramatic rise in Murray’s popularity dated back to a different Wimbledon. For his path to victory was a long and demanding one, not least because the young Scot had shown such promise so young.

At his first Wimbledon in 2005, aged just 18, he reached the third round, beating the No14 seed Radek Stepanek and then leading David Nalbandian by two sets before the talented Argentine, a Wimbledon finalist himself at 20, won in five.

The next year, Murray went one step better, advancing to the fourth round after beating No3 seed Andy Roddick in straight sets.

In 2008, now 21, Murray was a Wimbledon quarter-finalist, and reached his first Grand Slam final at the US Open. The next year it was the quarters of the French Open, in 2010 a first Australian Open final, and in 2011—still just 24—he not only reached another final in Australia but also the semis of all the other Majors.

Step by step, his talent and a formidable and single-minded work ethic took him closer to the holy grail, a first British men’s Grand Slam title since Fred Perry in the 1930s—and 2012, perhaps the most appropriate of all years, brought his reward.

For it was Olympic year in London, and the tennis medals would be decided on the courts of SW19. Before that, though, came Murray’s first Wimbledon final, and a runners-up speech that would melt the hardest of hearts—a halting “I’m going to do this, and it’s not going to be easy…” He wept, and Centre Court wept with him.

But just a month later, against the same opponent, Roger Federer, he would win Olympic gold. And if none of that was enough to win over British sports fans, a BBC documentary certainly did. The real Murray—sensitive, witty, intensely focused on his sport but a loyal and generous friend—shone through, not least in his retelling of the day his school in Dublane fell victim to tragedy.

To cap it all, he went on to win his first Grand Slam in New York a couple of months later.

So by Wimbledon 2013, there was a new mood, a new buzz, a new optimism that, before the day was done, something special was coming.

This time, he played a different man, but the mood recaptured the heady summer of 2012. After months of cold and rain, the sun came out to play on the hottest day of the year. Having faced one of the sport’s finest the year before, Murray now took on the current best, No1 seed Novak Djokovic, before an estimated audience of 17 million—and he beat him in straight sets.

It’s rare for a tennis player to be given a standing ovation by the press, but on this particular Sunday, that is just what the media centre at Wimbledon gave Murray.

He was asked what he thought had finally brought victory, and his reply was typical of this understated champion: “I think I persevered. That’s really been it, the story of my career probably. I had a lot of tough losses, but the one thing I would say is I think every year I always improved a little bit.”

The rest of the year could not match his summer high as a long-term back problem that had forced him to miss the French Open finally saw him go under the knife. He missed the entire post-US Open season—apart, that is, from leading GB back to the Davis Cup World Group.

In 2012, against a multitude of fellow gold medal winners at the BBC ceremony, Murray came third to Tour de France and Olympic champion Bradley Wiggins and heptathlon gold medallist Jessica Ennis. This time, no-one could match one special spine-tingling occasion on Centre Court.

Tennis has enjoyed success in the Sports Personality of the Year before. The only two women to win the title, Virginia Wade in 1977 and Ann Jones in 1969, both did so after claiming the Wimbledon title. Greg Rusedski and Tim Henman took first and second in places in 1997, though neither managed to win a Grand Slam. What Murray has achieved in the last 18 months—Olympic, US Open and Wimbledon champion—makes him possibly the most impressive of the lot.

And when he returns in 2014, fitter, fresher and pain-free, there is the promise of much more to come.

But it has been the man as much as the sportsman who won the votes of a nation, and his closing words to his admirers back home did nothing to diminish his popularity.

It was an apology—delivered with a lump in his throat: “I know I’m sometimes not the easiest person to support… No matter how excited I try to sound, my voice still sounds incredibly boring, I’m very excited and happy right now—it’s just my voice: I’m sorry.”

You’re forgiven, Andy.

BBC’s 2013 Sport Personality shortlist

Winner: Andy Murray, Wimbledon champion
Runner-up: Leigh Halfpenny, man of the series for victorious British/Irish Lions in Australia
Third: AP McCoy, first jump jockey to reach 4,000 winning rides

Also rans:

Mo Farah, double World Athletics Champion in 5K and 10K
Christine Ohuruogu, regaining her world 400m title
Hannah Cockroft, double wheelchair World Athletics Champion
Chris Froome, second Briton ever to win Tour de France
Justin Rose, winning maiden golf major at the US Open
Sir Ben Ainslie, helping mastermind America’s Cup sailing victory
Ian Bell, man of the series in England’s Ashes win this summer

Other award winners:

Team of the Year: British and Irish Lions
Coach of the Year: Warren Gatland
Overseas Sports Personality of the Year: Sebastian Vettel
Young Sports Personality of the Year: Amber Hill
Sports Personality of the Year Diamond Award: Sir Alex Ferguson
Helen Rollason Award: Anne Williams, Hillsborough justice campaigner

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